Valzhyna Mort of Cornell University Wins the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize

Valzhyna Mort, an assistant professor of literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, won the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize in the international category. Mort was honored for her book, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020).

The Griffin Prize is awarded by the Griffin Trust in Oakville, Ontario, to first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world. The prize was founded in 2000 to encourage and celebrate excellence in poetry. Mort’s book was chosen from among 572 books of poetry from 14 countries, written in 18 languages. With the prize comes an award of $65,000 Canadian dollars.

Mort explains that the poems in this collection try to find words to describe “things that escape language, things that leave us speechless,” especially in the face of loss or trauma. Many of the poems in the collection are rooted in her native country, Belarus.

“Belarus has a history of 250 years of political and cultural fracture,” Mort said. “Current events in Belarus – mass imprisonment, police kidnapping people on the street, torture in police custody, direct threats of execution – have triggered old wounds, old silences. My book speaks to these wounds.”

M0rt was a student at the State University of Linguistics in Minsk. She holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from American University in Washington, D.C.

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